Sign in to comment!

Journal Editorial Report

Could a disastrous Syria policy actually get worse?

This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," September 12, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," the crisis in Syria takes another troubling turn as the refugee flood hits Europe and America, and Russia moves to prop up Bashar Assad.

Plus, as Hillary Clinton's poll numbers continue to slide, will her e-mail apology be enough to calm nervous Democrats?

And Jeb Bush unveils an ambitious tax overhaul and kicks off a debate about economic growth. Will it set him apart from the GOP pack? Find out after these headlines.

(FOX NEWS REPORT)

GIGOT: Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.

The Obama administration announced Thursday that the United States is prepared to take in at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next year, a small fraction of the millions that have fled that country and are now flooding into Europe as the civil war there drags into its fifth year.  That news comes as the White House says it has deep concerns about reports that Russia is deploying military personnel and aircraft to Syria. Part of what the U.S. fears is a build-up aimed keeping Bashar Assad in power.

Wall Street Journal Global View columnist, Bret Stephens; and "Main Street" columnist, Bill McGurn, join us with more.

So, Bret, President Obama said if we stay out of Syria, the war will stay away from us. Now the war is very much coming to Europe and our own shores in the form of refugees and potential terrorists.

BRET STEPHENS, "GLOBAL VIEW" COLUMNIST: Yeah, the Vegas principle doesn't apply to Syria. What happens in Damascus doesn't stay in Damascus. And we're learning it's belated, not only with the humanitarian catastrophe, more than 200,000 people dead, hundreds of thousands of people leaving the country, but also the strategic vacuum, which has been the incubator for ISIS and is now becoming an area of opportunity for various kinds of interlopers, Iranians, Russians, and others.

GIGOT: I think we all want to be compassionate, Bill --

BILL MCGURN, "MAIN STREET" COLUMNIST: Right.

GIGOT: -- but the argument can be made, if we accept more of these refugees, are we giving an incentive for more to come and try to apply for asylum?

MCGURN: Yeah, I think definitely. On the other hand, the larger message of the refugee crisis is that, if you don't do something to address the instability in this small country -- you look at this tiny country, what is it 20 million people before the war started, and it's affecting the entire region and spreading into Europe. You can accept people. That's the first step. You have to do something to stem the tide.

GIGOT: I don't think 10,000 is going to be the limit for the United States. We're going to end up having pressure to accept probably tens of thousands, if not more, because it looks like the war is going to get worse. Would you accept those refugees?

STEPHENS: I would -- look, Bill is exactly right. You have to show -- you have to have a humanitarian impulse. You have to bring some refugees in.  In particular, Syrian Christians aren't simply in the crossfires of the civil war, they're being targeted for elimination.

GIGOT: What about -- OK. And I agree with you, but away about those that would say, look, Islamic State, al Qaeda, they're going to put their own sympathizers or agents in with these people to say that they're --

(CROSSTALK)

MCGURN: This is a result of not having the policy in the Middle East. We react to every little development, whether it's ISIS or so forth, but we don't have a policy. If we kept the force in Iraq, maybe kept ISIS down, and armed moderate Syrian rebels, we might not have this crisis today.

STEPHENS: More to the point, I think maybe four years ago, just not long after the Syrian crisis began, we were calling for establishing no fly zones so that Bashar Assad couldn't use his attack helicopters and his planes to barrel bomb his own population.

GIGOT: That would have been a safe haven for the people fleeing.

STEPHENS: Right, so that people could have gone to areas in northern Syria or southern Syria rather than having the mass exodus.

GIGOT: Rather than New Jersey.

STEPHENS: I see now some of our liberal friends are picking up on this ideal, 200,000 deaths later. But we welcome their participation.

(LAUGHTER)

GIGOT: Let's move to the Russia news, which is big and troubling, because they're saying that, the U.S. intelligence officials are now saying it looks like not only are Russian troops on the ground, but they're preparing for air strikes on behalf of Bashar Assad. That compliments our strategy for there. How serious is this, Bret?

STEPHENS: Since 1947, since we announced the -- President Truman announced the famous Truman Doctrine, it has been our policy to try to keep the Russians out of the Middle East and, in particular, out of the eastern Mediterranean.

GIGOT: Because they create trouble.

STEPHENS: Precisely. Now they're establishing bases, especially on the city, Alawite-controlled city Latokia (ph), which is on the Mediterranean shore. They're shoring up -- they're trying to shore up a client and trying to enhance their prestige in the region. Again, it's a natural result. When you create power vacuums, those vacuums get filled by willful and violent people, and that is the moral of the Syria abdication.

GIGOT: So much for the president's cooperaton with Vladimir Putin, yielding strategic gains for the --

(CROSSTALK)

MCGURN: Right. Look at how this is turning out. ISIS ascendant, refugees flooding Europe, and Putin in a stronger position. I can't help but feel this goes back to the red line. It's the opposite of Reagan. Reagan --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: Where the president said, if you use chemical weapons --

MCGURN: Game changers.

GIGOT: -- I will do something.

MCGURN: And he called for Assad to go, right?

GIGOT: Not only that, but he said we will bomb.

MCGURN: So we had -- Ronald Reagan stepped on the air traffic control to show the Kremlin he was serious and the Soviet Union came down. President Obama ignored his own red line, and this is what we've got. We've got Bashar Assad still in power. We've got Putin in a better position. We've got a refugee crisis spreading through Europe.

GIGOT:  And a terror -- potential terrorist assault --

MCGURN: Yes.

GIGOT: -- as all part of the mix hitting -- through Islamic State, hitting Europe and the United States.

MCGURN: Didn't we learn from 9/11 when there was a plot to bomb us from a remote village in Afghanistan that we're vulnerable to what happens overseas? I mean, a series of tiny countries. Imagine if this spreads to other parts of the region.

GIGOT: It's already spread to Libya.

All right, thank you, gentlemen.

When we come back, as her poll numbers continue to sink, Clinton aides are promising a new and improved Hillary, one with more humor and heart. So will the latest reboot reassured jittery Democrats or is a plan B in the works?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: With supporters becoming increasingly alarmed about the toll the e- mail scandal is taking on her candidacy, Hillary Clinton this week offered an apology for using a private server during her time as secretary of state.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, D-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE & FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE:  In retrospect, certainly, as I look back at it now, even though it was allowed, I should have used two accounts, one for personal and one for work-related emails. That was a mistake. I'm sorry about that. I take responsibility.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: That comes as a new poll shows Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders leading Clinton for the first time in Iowa, the latest in a string of surveys that show her losing ground in early states.

We're back with Bill McGurn. Wall Street Journal assistant editorial page journalist, James Freeman; and "Potomac Watch" columnist, Kim Strassel.

So, Kim, for weeks, months really, the former secretary of state has been saying, look, I did nothing wrong, I had every right to do this, there was no problem, following the rules, and so on. Suddenly, boom, we get this quasi-apology saying I shouldn't have made that mistake, as if it was sort of a small matter.

(LAUGHTER)

But what do you make of this apology? Is it a sign that she realizes the former strategy wasn't working?

KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST: Yes, and things are looking bad.  She's got two things working against her, Paul. One is not just this e- mail scandal, which is dripping along, and it seems to get worse for her every week with every new revelation. But the other thing is what you are seeing out there is a sense that the Democratic electorate isn't necessarily sold on Hillary Clinton and they're looking for an alternative.  And so this e-mail scandal has simply fed into that dissatisfaction, and that's why you see Bernie Sanders rising in the polls and people increasingly asking for Joe Biden to get into the race.

GIGOT: Bill, she said, I apologize for having two e-mail accounts. I should have had one. You know what? That still doesn't account for the private server. I mean, she didn't need to have that. You and I know you can have two e-mail accounts on your device.

MCGURN: That gets back to the whole -- two points. Just to follow-up on what Kim said. This apology came not just at Bernie Sanders is out front, but if you add the 12 percent for Joe Biden, she's really behind in Iowa, if you add Sanders' 41 percent and Biden's 12 percent. The substance is the server, and she didn't answer the question in that clip, and the reason is the server speaks to intent. What is a good explanation for the server?

GIGOT: Exactly right. That is where the criminal culpability came in.  She mishandled classified information. There's no question about that.  But in order to be charged with a crime, they typically say you must show some intent to have done so. If she knew when she got that private e-mail server that some classified information -- she had to know it -- was going to cross that server and be, therefore, vulnerable to eavesdropping and mishandling. That does suggest intent.

JAMES FREEMAN, ASSISTANT EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: Right. This is why the stonewall may be the best strategy for her because the honest explanation - -

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: But that isn't working in the polls, James. I'm sorry.

(LAUGHTER)

FREEMAN: She has no other option. There really is no good explanation for the server. And you're not allowed -- beyond the classified e-mail issue, you're not allowed to just opt out of the Federal Records Act. You're not allowed to opt out of the Freedom of Information Act. But --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: Those are the two laws she was trying to evade. There's no question about that.

FREEMAN: Right. And people know it. I think the most amazing recent polling, the ones our paper reported on Friday, that several recent polls she is running behind Barack Obama's 2012 performance among white women.  This is essentially the demographic she ought to own. She's built her whole candidacy around the historic nature of this run for her. That is about as bad a danger signal as she can get.

GIGOT: But, Kim, can -- will Democrats -- can she lose the nomination if she isn't either indicted or cut some is kind of a plea deal with the Justice Department and the FBI, because, short of that, I have my doubts that the Democrats are going to nominate Bernie Sanders or Martin O'Malley, the current candidates in the race.

STRASSEL: I think the problem, though, for Democrats is that they don't know when or if she could get indicted. I think that is actually helping Bernie Sanders and the push for Joe Biden, because the Democrats' worse nightmare is that they get through Iowa and they get through New Hampshire, they get through South Carolina, they get Hillary Clinton as their nominee, and then the Justice Department goes ahead and moves and tries to get her to plead to a misdemeanor or act in some way. That is what is inspiring this.

Can she lose this? I think she possibly could. There is a lot of dissatisfaction out there, and the other problem is that what she has actually done with this server is set up a situation now in which the State Department is going to have to continue releasing these emails every month, so the story simply will not go away.

GIGOT: Which is why, James, we had the Democrats pursuing plan B as they're now talking about. We're getting some other candidate, Joe Biden, John Kerry. Al Gore, for 15 years after he narrowly lost to George W. Bush, is now -- they're talking about Al Gore, not that he has shown any interest. But what's -- is a plan B plausible?

FREEMAN: Well, the plan B is showing that there's no bench there. The Biden boomlet --

(LAUGHTER)

We said before, he made two national runs for the presidency, and he came up with zero delegates. This is not a proven winner in this arena. I think it's a question of when Warren wants to come in.

GIGOT: All right, thank -- Elizabeth Warren. You think she may still come in? Wow.

OK. When we come back, Jeb Bush calls for an overhaul of the U.S. tax code, unveiling a plan he says will jump-start a sluggish economy. Could it help him break out of the Republican pack?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEB BUSH, R-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE & FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR: My plan will help those that live on their paychecks who haven't seen a raise in a while, and it means the American dream will be possible for millions who have forgotten what it looks like.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: That was Jeb Bush unveiling his tax reform plan in North Carolina on Wednesday. The Republican presidential candidate is calling for a simple, clear and fair tax code that he says will help the U.S. economy return to the 4 percent growth last seen in the 1990s.

So, James, you have you've looked at this plan, as have I. What do you make of it? Do you like it? And what do you like in particular, if you do?

FREEMAN: I like it's about growing the economy, and in a big way.  According to the Tax Foundation, it would lift GDP 10 percent above where it would otherwise be over a decade. That's huge. That means millions of new jobs, entire wages for American workers. This is really going a long way toward the simplicity of a flat tax but it actually, because of the way it's designed, does more for growth than the Rand Paul flat tax, at least according to the Tax Foundation.

GIGOT: It doesn't have the low flat tax one rate. It has three rates.

FREEMAN: Right.

GIGOT: It has 28 percent tops, 25 percent and 10 percent. But it has something called 100 percent expensing, which means businesses that invest can write off their investments from the start. And what that does, that is aimed at supercharging investment in the economy, which has been a real weak spot during this expansion. The consumer in the Obama recovery has held up pretty well, but business has under invested and this could kick charge that.

FREEMAN: That's right. You get the expensing. You get lower rates. You get a promise that the IRS is not going to tax every dollar worldwide even when it's been taxed overseas. What you're getting is a huge boon to U.S. business growth and an incentive for companies, imagine this, to want to be here instead of trying to leave.

(LAUGHTER)

GIGOT: There are some interesting twists, though, to the plan, Kim. It bows to populism. For example, he would go after carry interests for hedge fund, which is a form of fee income, as some people define it, and then going after the deduction for borrowing interests for companies. Those kinds of specificity usually gets you into trouble when you're proposing a tax reform. Why is Bush doing that?

STRASSEL: This is very shrewd, Paul. First of all, I think there's some merits to them. When you talk about the deductability, for instance, getting rid of that on business expenses, this is an idea trying to bring parity between debt and equity financing out there. So there are some strong policy reasons for doing this. Politically, what this does is it makes it much harder for Democrats to attack Bush and suggest that is just a big tax plan for the rich because he is taking aim at some special perks that Wall Street has had and there are other aspects of the plan, too, that definitely undercut the talking point that the GOP simply caters to the wealthy.

GIGOT: Including a cap on deductions, total deductions you can take if you itemize on your taxes of 2 percent, which means you can use all the various deductions, like mortgage interest and others, but only up to 2 percent of adjusted gross income, which means that some affluent taxpayers are not going to get a big tax cut, especially when you include the fact that he removed the deductability for state and local taxes off your federal taxes.

STRASSEL: Right.

GIGOT: So those of us living in New York and California, in high-tax states, that's not going to be popular, perhaps, there. I guess he's not going to win those electoral states, Kim?

STRASSEL: I don't think he was ever necessarily planning to anyway. But this is immensely important because this has been -- you can see when you look at Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, this was going to be their main theme, and what he's doing, making the argument that, you know, Republicans, if they had any tax plans, it was all about the wealthy and helping them and not the middle class. As James pointed out, the growth aspects of this are going to be phenomenal for everybody, in particular the middle class. And he does definitely insulate himself from that charge.

GIGOT: I should add that I support removing the deductability of state and local taxes on policy grounds because I don't think that taxpayers in low tax states should end up essentially subsidizing bad tax policy in high tax states.

How does the Bush plan compare to some of the other plans put out there, Rubio's or Rand Paul's flat tax and Chris Christie's?

FREEMAN: Well, it looks like you get the most growth per dollar of tax cuts from the Bush plan, although you definitely -- let's talk about Rubio.  You get a lot of growth out of that but it also costs the government a lot.  So --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: It wouldn't even cut -- Rubio wouldn't even cut dividend and capital gains further than Bush.

FREEMAN: Right. Right. So you get some very good growth parts of the Rubio plan in terms of allowing more business investments, but you also spend a lot of money in the Rubio plan, spending in Washington terms, on tax credits for families that don't give you a lot of growth. So that would be the drawback. On the Rand Paul flat tax, the simplicity is great, but it's essentially a value-added tax. It's a big tax on business to get that simplicity.

GIGOT: All right, thanks very much.

We'll have a lot more to talk about taxes as the campaign goes along.

We have to take one more break. When we come back, "Hits and Misses" of the week.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: Time now for "Hits and Misses."

Kim, first to you.

STRASSEL: A huge hit for U.S. federal judge, Rosemary Collyer, who this week ruled that House Republicans can proceed with a lawsuit against the administration over its lawless implementation of Obamacare. As we all know, the White House has been ignoring its own health care statute, implementing it anyway, it feels like it. And last year, House Republicans sued it because it claimed that the White House had spent money Congress had not appropriated. Judge Collyer's ruling that Republicans have standing in this case and can proceed is a huge victory for the separation of the branches, but it's also a reassurance to voters that there may be some check on an executive who gets out of control.

GIGOT: All right, thank you, Kim.

William?

MCGURN: Double miss to Joe Biden. The vice president hasn't announced yet, but he's taking a bigger profile. Monday, he marched in a Labor Day parade and expressed his anger at the Obama/Biden economy.

(LAUGHTER)

Later in the week, he was up here in Manhattan endorsing the $15 an hour minimum wage with Governor Cuomo. It's a miss for two reasons. One is jacking up the minimum wage is just going to make some workers too expensive to hire, and we've seen that. Second, the opportunity would have been to tell Governor Cuomo if he wanted to do something, open up fracking.

GIGOT: James?

FREEMAN: This is a miss to McDonald's, more in sadness than in anger.  They've announced they're doing cage-free eggs for their breakfast meals.  I don't think this is the way to deliver an affordably priced, tasty breakfast. So on behalf of many of their customers, I'm giving them a miss and asking them to reconsider.

GIGOT: All right, James.

That's it for this week's show. Thanks to my panel and to all of you for watching. I'm Paul Gigot. We hope to see you right here next week.

Content and Programming Copyright 2015 Fox News Network, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2015 CQ-Roll Call, Inc. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.